Loving where you live has never been more important. While a healthy job market, good schools, and affordability have always attracted homebuyers, the coronavirus pandemic has fueled a new need for a home with plenty of room to stretch your legs—indoors and out.
Given these new parameters, where’s the best place to settle down today? According to U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of the Best Places To Live in the U.S. for 2021–22, Boulder, CO, tops the list.
To pinpoint the most desirable cities, the report analyzed the 150 most populated metro areas in the country and ranked them according to five metrics: job market, affordability, quality of life, desirability, and net migration (the rate of people moving into or out of the city).
Here’s a look at the 10 Best Places To Live for 2021–22, ranked by U.S. News & World Report:
- Boulder, CO
- Raleigh–Durham, NC
- Huntsville, AL
- Fayetteville, AR
- Austin, TX
- Colorado Springs, CO
- Naples, FL
- Portland, ME
- Sarasota, FL
- Portland, OR
Why Boulder is the best place to live
Boulder, which also topped this report’s rankings last year, maintains bragging rights as the best city to live in for good reason, with its abundance of outdoor activities, including skiing, mountain biking, hiking, and more. Plus, economically, Boulder hasn’t taken as big a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic or seen unemployment rates rise as much as other metros.
“Boulder has an extremely strong job market with a high average annual salary, and the job market this year was able to remain relatively stable compared to many other parts of the country since the start of the pandemic,” adds Devon Thorsby, real estate editor at U.S. News & World Report. “That plays a major role in helping it to maintain its top spot.”
Boulder’s top industries are technology and aerospace, which Thorsby says were able to remain fairly steady over the past year. Plus, with more well-paid professionals being able to work remotely and live anywhere due to the pandemic, Boulder is now an option for many who might have been tied to commuting to bigger cities before the pandemic.
“These professionals have flocked to beautiful places in the U.S. over the last year,” says G. Brian Davis, founder of SparkRental. “And Boulder certainly ranks among the most beautiful mountain towns in the country. It maintains a charming small-town vibe while sitting less than 45 minutes away from Denver, and the University of Colorado brings both jobs and a vibrant college town feel.”
Alison Sirlin, a broker with Live West Realty in Boulder, says she’s seen many transplants from bigger cities.
“I’ve personally worked with many clients who are coming from bigger cities to live in Boulder and take advantage of the beautiful scenery and healthy lifestyle it provides,” she says. “Many buyers have decided they want more space, inside or outside.”
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Boulder’s real estate market
Yet the popularity of Boulder also means that Americans moving to this area will have plenty of competition for homes.
“The typical home in Boulder sells quickly, so buyers should be prepared to pounce if they’re planning a move,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com®. “They may also want to lock down their housing plans before packing up, as the limited number of homes for sale can make the market challenging to navigate.”
According to Hale, the median asking price for homes was $814,500 in June, 12.3% higher than last year.
“Like many parts of the country, homes are selling quickly, there aren’t many for sale, and among those that are for sale, prices are up,” she says.
Hale says new listings are growing in some parts of the country, normalizing the market, but that hasn’t happened yet in Boulder.
According to Duane Duggan, a broker at Re/Max in Boulder, the cheapest single-family home on the market right now is around $650,000. This price is too steep for many first-time homebuyers, who remain locked out of the market.
“One of the things you see happening right now is that the median price has exceeded the median income earner’s ability to purchase a median-price house,” Duggan explains.
Plus, the asking price is often just a launch pad for bidding wars that further drive up the price.
According to Sirlin, homes are selling for 10% to 15% over the asking price. Sellers often receive dozens of offers, plus an influx of cash offers, which makes it tough for many buyers to compete.
“It’s definitely harder to get started in the city limits of Boulder,” Duggan says. “So the old saying of ‘drive till you qualify’ still applies.”
Duggan says that more affordable options can be found in areas east of Boulder, including Longmont, Lafayette, and Lewisville.
How Boulder’s home prices compare with other top cities
Homes in Boulder are about twice as expensive as the other cities ranked in the top three on the U.S. News list. Raleigh–Durham, which rose nine spots to No. 2, has a median asking price of $411,100, according to Hale. Median prices in Huntsville, AL, which jumped 12 spots to No. 3, are $317,500.
Both Raleigh-Durham and Huntsville also have fewer listings and are seeing rising prices, Hale says.
“Affordability and real estate bang for the buck are important,” which benefits Huntsville and Raleigh-Durham, Hale explains. “In Boulder’s case, I think the attractiveness is being remote and closer to outdoor activities.”
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